|Publication number||US7256681 B1|
|Application number||US 09/692,538|
|Publication date||Aug 14, 2007|
|Filing date||Oct 20, 2000|
|Priority date||Oct 20, 2000|
|Publication number||09692538, 692538, US 7256681 B1, US 7256681B1, US-B1-7256681, US7256681 B1, US7256681B1|
|Inventors||John O. Moody, Eric R. Steinbrecher|
|Original Assignee||Lockheed Martin Corporation|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (25), Referenced by (14), Classifications (8), Legal Events (4)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
1. Field of the Invention
The present invention generally relates to the tracking of movement of people and objects using wireless communication links and, more particularly, to combined tracking of and communication with people and objects using a widely available and well-developed communications medium.
2. Description of the Prior Art
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems have been known for a number of years, particularly in the field of theft deterrence. Many retail establishments now mark goods with a removable tag or include a permanent device in or on the goods which can be deactivated by a magnetic field or other arrangement. Tags which have not been deactivated or removed are then detected at some point of egress from the store by radio frequency interrogators positioned to detect active tags brought into proximity therewith.
RFID systems are not at all limited to theft deterrence and may be used for a wide variety of applications ranging from, for example, inventory control to secure location access control to global supply chain problems. Any object, animal or person with which a detectable tag can be physically associated can be tracked and its location reported to any desired level of accuracy or resolution with a suitably designed RFID system. Depending on the application, the tags may be active or passive (e.g. powered or unpowered) and may or may not have the capability of being separately identifiable, either uniquely or in groups/categories, or other capabilities. Radio interrogators may also be of widely varying configurations, depending on the intended application.
Unfortunately, current RFID systems are generally custom designed for particular application and/or rely on proprietary, dedicated hardware. Therefore, such systems can be expanded or modified only with substantial difficulty and cannot be adapted for any other data intensive application. Further, in general, RFID products from different vendors are not interoperable and, moreover, may interfere with or have their performance degraded by other radio frequency applications, including other RFID systems, used in the same environment. The geographic scope of the RFID system is generally fixed with the system design and, in general, the detectable range of tags from radio interrogators is very limited, often to a few feet or meters.
Local area and wide area networks are known for providing communications between data processing devices such as personal computers to allow them, for example, to access a common data base. Such networks may be hard-wired or wireless or a combination thereof. Wireless portions of a local or wide area network communicate with individual terminals through radio frequency transmitters and receivers which are spatially separated and generally referred to as access points. The network has the capability of tracking the particular terminals with which communications can be conducted from a given access point at any given time.
It should be recognized that RFID systems can interfere with wireless portions of local and wide area networks and other radio frequency systems and vice-versa. That is, for example, a RFID system may preclude use of a wireless portion of a LAN or WAN (hereinafter collectively referred to as networks) in certain locations of a facility. Further, the detectable tag of an RFID system may compromise other devices or arrangements that rely on radio frequency communications, particularly compromising reliable communications between terminals and access points of a network.
It should also be recognized that while RFID systems and wireless portions of networks are similar enough in some ways to interfere with each other, the proprietary nature of the former and the intended function of the latter does not permit combined functions to be realized. For example, while a wireless portion of a network may have a rudimentary capability to track and/or switch the access point for communication with a particular terminal, it cannot generally report the location of the assets that such terminals or particular operators which particular terminals may represent, much less track assets represented by equipment connected to a given terminal which may communicate with a central server or other terminals through a wireless portion of a network. Conversely, RFID systems cannot provide data communications using standard wireless data networking protocols, such as IEEE 802.11. Special purpose transmitter/receiver devices, known as interrogators, are equipped to merely sense the proximity of identifiable tags or to engage in limited read/write data traffic with the tags using protocols that preclude the inclusion of other network-aware devices participating in the communication.
It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a RFID system for asset tracking which is extendable and utilizes a standardized, non-proprietary communication protocol.
It is another object of the invention to provide asset tracking and reporting capabilities automatically over a generalized and extensible infrastructure.
It is a further object of the invention to provide combined asset tracking and reporting in a particularly enhanced form together and in combination with a capability for arbitrary and generalized data communications between tracked assets.
In order to accomplish these and other objects of the invention, a transponder is provided including an arrangement for associating said transponder with a device, a communication facility for associating the transponder with access points of a standard wireless data network, including receiving an interrogation signal, and transmitting a signal that can be interpreted by an access point of the standard wireless data network as identification information.
In accordance with another aspect of the invention, an asset tracking system is provided including a computer network supporting a plurality of wireless links from respective wireless access points, a transponder including an arrangement for transmitting identification information to the network, and an arrangement for accessing and reporting internal network access point information in association with identification information.
The foregoing and other objects, aspects and advantages will be better understood from the following detailed description of a preferred embodiment of the invention with reference to the drawings, in which:
Referring now to the drawings, and more particularly to
These queries may serve the simple purpose of determining which devices are associated with which access points, which can then be mapped to physical locations based on proximity. It is preferred that the system feed data from the queries to an algorithm that will provide higher resolution positioning or proximity to access points. Many techniques can be used for this purpose, including triangulation, quadratic optimization, or neural networks. The use of algorithms such as quadratic optimization or a neural network require that the system have access to data collected from a site survey where the radio frequency (RF) characteristics of the physical environment are measured and recorded. This site survey data is then matched with data from real-time queries of devices on the network by the above-mentioned algorithms to narrow down the location of the device to a physical location within the environment. Conducting site surveys is a standard step in the installation of a wireless data network and will be familiar to those skilled in the art.
Wireless access points 40 are also well-known for allowing communications with processors (e.g. 60) which are not hard wired to the network. Each wireless access point 40 includes a transmitter and receiver preferably capable of communicating over a plurality of channels (e.g. using different frequencies, different code packet addresses or the like) simultaneously. Each communication to or from a processor includes identification of the processor and, when a communication is received from a processor 60 and communicated to server 30, the access point is identified, as well, so that server 30 can continue to communicate bidirectionally with processor 60 through a particular access point until a communication is received through a different access point.
It should be appreciated that the functions of polling or querying of access points and processors communicating therethrough and tracking the access point used for communication with each processor 60 is a known and necessary management function of a network including wireless network links. The invention leverages this function by providing communication to and from additional devices 50, 70 (e.g. tags, smart cards, portable telephones and the like) with varying functionalities and providing a query interface and suitable reporting software to present management data and other data which may be collected in association with management data to a user, schematically depicted as client 80, or any other terminal associated with the system over hard wired or wireless links.
That is, referring to
The invention leverages the existing infrastructure of wireless networks by preferably providing storage of information concerning generalized assets which are made visible to the network by physical association with a transceiver which is capable of at least rudimentary communications, such as returning a short sequence of code (or a frequency which can be converted to a code at an access point) such as a serial number or other identification when polled by the network over a wireless link. Storage of such information in, for example, look-up table 110, is not necessary to the practice of the invention but is much preferred to simplify and shorten communications and to reduce complexity of the transceiver.
For example, the serial number of an automobile can convey a substantial amount of information about its original equipment in a relatively few digits which can be rapidly transmitted and processed. It is preferred that the identifying code transmitted by (or in response to) an asset be or include the machine address of its wireless networking hardware (160 and 180 in
In current wireless networks, data associating access points with particular devices is generally stored only on the access points themselves. In accordance with the present invention, network queries to the access points are used to create a general data store 100 of access point/wireless device associations and metrics, such as the strength of radio signals between access points and the devices. The invention operates on this data by making it accessible to a client terminal 80 through a client interface 80′. This data is formatted and organized for display, preferably in accordance with specific client queries, by a geographic information system (GIS) resident on or downloadable from the server to the client terminal. Such systems are generally known for geolocation and map-following applications and can be readily adapted for any particular environment such as a building, a plurality of business sites, a map of a region and the like.
As perfecting features of the invention, storage 130, 140 can be provided for other types of information such as communicated messages from a user of a processor 60 or condition data such as an on-hook or off-hook condition of a portable telephone 70 or contents of a smart card 50. These storage arrangements may be considered as extensions of look-up table 110 and may be provided most readily by configuration of the server. It should be appreciated that storage of communications from a network connected processor will generally exist in a network server but is separately depicted at 130 since communicated data may be somewhat more generalized in the context of the invention.
In view of the foregoing, it should be appreciated that virtually all hardware depicted in
Because of the processing power required by the tag to respond with appropriate communication protocols, current implementations providing such a response must be active. Such rudimentary responses can be converted to code in accordance with network protocols by a suitable converter at the access points. Different re-radiation frequencies can be used to distinguish different types of tags to identify different assets and corresponding codes generated. However, such a converter would represent a hardware modification of the network (but allow somewhat less expensive transponders) whereas no hardware modifications of the network are necessary and the invention can be entirely implemented in software if active transducers are provided.
This type of tag provides a function identical to known RFID systems such as inventory control and access authorization but through an open and expandable wireless network. However, different types of articles may be distinguished by the return signals and a description thereof and/or other pertinent information retrieved from look-up table 100. Additional functionality can be achieved through the GIS arrangement for reporting location and may be enhanced by fine-grained location detection arrangements as may be desired.
A more flexible arrangement with additional functionality can be achieved through a tag in accordance with
When an interrogation signal is received from the network, the control section causes a read out of the memory contents to a modulator 180 which then transmits preferably coded signals to the network. Asset identification and other pertinent information including plain text translation of changeable (e.g. condition) information retrieved from look-up table 100 and/or condition data memory 130. Condition data is preferably stored and may be reflected in the display provided at the client terminal. Such data will, of course be updated at the next interrogation and response if the data in memory 175 has been changed.
The type of “smart card” tag illustrated in
Additional functionality and potential applications are available from the arrangement illustrated in
Control from the network is schematically depicted by dashed arrows 190. This control may take the form of remote control of machinery and may include automatic control based on location as widely divergent vehicle speed control in particular geographical regions and context sensitive computing where the processor behavior is changed in dependence on the environment. Similarly, the environment may include other assets visible to the network, allowing, for example, processor response to be automatically altered for different individual users who are also visible to the system.
It should be appreciated that the asset tracking system in accordance with the invention provides total asset visibility to support automation of logistics in military and commercial supply chains. Mobile vehicles such as automobiles, trucks, railroad rolling stock, boats and airplanes can also be tracked and a range of services based on usage, such as automated fueling, automatically scheduled and/or provided. Other moveable items such as postal bins and their contents can be tracked and managed in much the same fashion. Portable computers and other data capture devices can be tracked and data downloaded automatically while usage and users can be monitored. The system can also be applied to theft detection and prevention, access control or even electronic home arrest in a manner which can be readily expanded in scope and/or easily customized to any particular environment or change thereof.
In view of the foregoing, it is seen that the use of active or passive tags which are visible to a computer network having wireless links provides a substitute for RFID systems that overcomes the disadvantages of the closed nature of such systems and provide two primary functions of general data networking and physical location sensing using the same infrastructure. Further, the system in accordance with the invention provides numerous additional and valuable functionalities well beyond those provided by RFID systems. The invention may be easily implemented with well-understood and reliable hardware from a mature technology and at little cost if a network supporting wireless links is already in place or otherwise needed for its usual functions. Additionally, the use of a transmission control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP) makes many data interactions readily available which are impossible or prohibitively difficult to implement in an RFID system.
While the invention has been described in terms of a single preferred embodiment, those skilled in the art will recognize that the invention can be practiced with modification within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.
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|U.S. Classification||340/10.1, 340/10.3, 340/10.4, 342/457|
|International Classification||H04Q5/22, G01S3/02|
|Oct 20, 2000||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION, MARYLAND
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:MOODY, JOHN O.;STEINBRECHER, ERIC R.;REEL/FRAME:011402/0286
Effective date: 20001012
|Feb 14, 2011||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 4
|Mar 27, 2015||REMI||Maintenance fee reminder mailed|
|Aug 14, 2015||LAPS||Lapse for failure to pay maintenance fees|